We’ve probably never seen weather like what’s being predicted for a vast region stretching from the North Atlantic to the North Pole and on into the broader Arctic this coming week. But it’s all in the forecast — an Icelandic low that’s stronger than most hurricanes featuring a wind field stretching over hundreds and hundreds of miles. One that taps warm tropical air and hurls it all the way to the North Pole and beyond during Winter time. And it all just reeks of a human-forced warming of the Earth’s climate…
Freak North Atlantic Storm Featuring Extremely Low Pressures
Sunday afternoon, a powerful, hurricane force low pressure system was in the process of rounding the southern tip of Greenland. This burly 960 mb beast roared out of an increasingly unstable Baffin Bay on Christmas. As it rounded Greenland and entered the North Atlantic, it pulled behind it a thousand-mile-wide gale force wind field even as it lashed the tip of Greenland with Hurricane force gusts. To its east, the storm now links with three other lows. Lows that are, even now, drawing south-to-north winds up from a region just west of Gibraltar, on past the UK, up beyond Iceland, over Svalbard, and into the Arctic Ocean itself.
(GFS forecasts predict a storm bombing out between 920 and 930 mb over Iceland by Wednesday. It’s a storm that could rival some of the strongest such systems ever recorded for the North Atlantic. But this storm’s influence is unique in its potential to shove an unprecedented amount of warm air into the Arctic. A warm storm for the Arctic Winter time. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)
Over the next few days these three lows are predicted to combine into a storm the likes of which the far North Atlantic rarely ever sees. This storm is expected to center over Iceland. But it will have far-reaching impacts ranging from the UK and on north to the pole itself. As the lows combine, GFS predicts them to bomb out into an unprecedentedly deep low featuring 920 to 930 mb (and possibly lower) minimum central pressures by this coming Wednesday. These pressures are comparable to the very extreme storm systems that raged through the North Atlantic during the Winter of 2013. Systems that featured minimum pressures in the range of 928 to 930 mb.
It’s worth noting that the lowest pressure ever recorded for the North Atlantic occurred in the much further southward forming Hurricane Wilma at 882 mb. In the far north, a January 11 1993 storm between Iceland and Scotland featured 913-915 mb pressures. It’s also worth considering that the GFS model currently puts the predicted storm within striking distance of setting a new record for the far north. Meanwhile, ECMWF models predict a somewhat less extreme low in the range of 940 mb (updated: ECMWF now predicts a 920 mb class storm). By comparison, Hurricane Sandy bottomed out at around 940 mb as well.
Regardless of peak strength, the expected storm is predicted to be both very intense and wide-ranging as both model forecasts feature numerous lows linked in chain with a much deeper storm center near Iceland. Among these and further north, two more strong lows in the range of 965 to 975 mb will round out this daisy chain of what is now shaping up to be a truly extreme storm system. The Icelandic coast and near off-shore regions are expected to see heavy precipitation hurled over the island by 90 to 100 mile per hour or stronger winds raging out of 35-40 foot seas. Meanwhile, the UK will find itself in the grips of an extraordinarily strong southerly gale running over the backs of 30 foot swells.
Warm Winds to Force Above Freezing Temperatures For the North Pole
(By early Wednesday, temperatures at the North Pole are expected to exceed 1 degree Celsius readings. Such temperatures are in the range of more than 40 degrees Celsius (72 degrees Fahrenheit) above average. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)
All along the eastern side of this storm, powerful warm winds are expected to funnel northward. Originating along the 35 degree North Latitude line west of Spain, these winds will force a train of warm air and moisture pole-ward ahead of our storm. The winds will rush up over a very riled North Sea, they will howl into a far warmer than normal Barents, and they will roar on past Svalbard — finally turning as they pass beyond the North Pole.
These winds will bring with them extraordinarily warm temperatures for the High Arctic region during Winter time. By Wednesday, the North Pole is expected to see temperatures in the range of 1-2 degrees Celsius or 41-42 degrees C above Woods Hole and NASA baseline Winter-time temperatures (73-75 degrees Fahrenheit above the normal daily temperature of -40 F for a typical Winter day). Such an extreme departure would be like seeing a 120 degree (Fahrenheit) December day in my hometown of Gaithersburg, MD.
NCAR and reanalysis data for the North Pole at this time of year put daily averages in the range of -30 C (-22 F) and -20 C (-4 F) respectively. Taking all these measures into account, it appears that we’ll be seeing temperatures in the range of 36-72 degrees above normal North Pole readings for late December, depending on which baseline you use.
By any yardstick, these are extremely warm and likely record readings for the North Pole. Winter Temperatures have only approached the freezing mark on one previous occasion in the NCAR data record. And the predicted temperatures for Wednesday appear set to surpass this odd record. Needless to say, a 1-2 C reading at the North Pole during late December is about as odd as witnessing Hell freezing over. But, in this case, the latest wave of warmth issuing from a human-driven shift toward climatological hell appears to be on schedule to arrive at the North Pole by Wednesday.
“I contacted a team of climate scientists at the University of Washington who maintain a fleet of weather monitoring equipment near the North Pole. James Morison, the principal investigator of the North Pole Environmental Observatory, said he’s “never heard of” temperatures above freezing in the wintertime there. Looking closer at the weather data, it appears this event is in fact unprecedented during the time period from late December through late April”
(The Arctic region as a whole is expected to experience a [frankly quite insane] temperature anomaly in the range of 4 degrees Celsius above average by January 3rd of 2016. Note the broad regions over Northern Canada, Siberia, and the Arctic Ocean that are predicted to experience temperatures in the range of 20 degrees Celsius above the already hotter than normal 1979 to 2000 baseline readings. For some areas — particularly in Northern Canada — this will mean near or even above freezing temperatures for tundra and permafrost zones in the depths of Winter. A set of conditions that has serious implications for permafrost thaw and related carbon store feedbacks. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)
New Freakish Weather Patterns Concordant With Human-Forced Climate Change
The deep, northward-driving synoptic pattern associated with both powerful high Latitude storms and warm winds is only something we’ve begun to see during recent years. The warming polar environment itself generates weaknesses in the Jet Stream which tends to allow these warm air invasions. In addition the warming oceans — which hold heat for longer than land masses — generate pathways for warm air invasions of the Arctic during Winter time. The Barents Sea, for example, has been particularly warm during recent years which has resulted in numerous warm wind invasion events issuing northward over Svalbard and regions eastward during recent years.
A final ingredient to this highly altered weather pattern appears to be a cooling of the sea surface in the North Atlantic just south of Greenland. This cooling has been set off by an increase in fresh water melt outflows from Greenland as glacial melt there has accelerated concordant with human-forced warming. The cool pool of glacial melt water south of Greenland has aided in the generation of a dipole featuring cool air to the west, warm air to the east. This year, warm air has tended to flow northward over Spain, the UK, and along a region between Iceland and Scandinavia. During the Winter of 2015-2016, this warm air slot has also been the breeding ground for very unstable weather and a number of powerful storm systems.
(It’s an El Nino year. But despite a climate feature that would typically strengthen the Jet Stream, what we see is another Arctic warm air invasion reminiscent of the recent polar vortex collapse events of Winters 2012 through 2014-2015. Note that the region of coldest air, which would typically tend to center over the North Pole has been driven south toward Greenland and Baffin Bay. A pattern that we’d expect concordant with world ocean warming and Greenland melt as a result of human-forced climate change. Image source: ECMWF.)
Unfortunately, this larger overall pattern marks a progression away from typical North Atlantic weather and toward a much more stormy environment. It’s an environment that is all too likely to be marked by features of warm air invasions moving up through the Barents and into the High Arctic during Winter. Of the Northern Hemisphere storm circulation tending to wrap around Greenland as the center of cold air shifts from the North Pole to the last bastion of dense glacial ice. And of a very unstable storm generating cold water and surface air temperature zone deepening and gaining an ever-stronger hold within the North Atlantic.
These are influences we see now. Ones that are impacting both the current powerful storm over Iceland and the unprecedented surge of warm air that is now preparing to invade the High Arctic. And though El Nino likely also played a part in the shifting of the storm generation zone toward Iceland, the far northward propagation of warm air into the Barents and High Arctic along with the extreme strength of the predicted storm are both likely new features of an overall altered pattern. What we witness here are both climates and weather features changing before our eyes in the form of what to us may seem a freak event — but what is actually part of a dangerous transition period away from the stable climates of the Holocene.
UPDATE: ECMWF model runs now predict an extraordinarily strong 920 mb low striking Iceland by Wednesday. With GFS model runs coming into agreement, the certainty of this extreme forecast intensity increases. NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center now has an updated forecast of 90 knot winds for the region in conjunction with this very impressive storm system.
Finally, as the Washington Post indicates in this excellent article, though some scientists are increasingly concerned that current powerful North Atlantic storms have a climate change influence, others remain unconvinced. For my own part, and based on continued observations of the weather data, model attribution studies, sea surface temperature, and glacial melt indicators, I believe there is a strengthening case for climate change attribution in the instance of more frequent, intense North Atlantic storms and especially in the recent very frequent Arctic warm air invasion events. In addition, it will unfortunately take years-to-decades for the institutions of modern science to come to a consensus on this and other climate change related issues. Given that events are now likely in play that will generate rapid changes to global and, in particular, North Atlantic weather patterns, it is impractical to wait for a scientific consensus to develop before reporting on these emerging issues. Waiting, at this time, would be irresponsible as it would result in a general lack of awareness of the overall threat.
To paraphrase Dr. Jennifer Francis — at this point it is not practical to wait for us to achieve perfect knowledge. And, in fact, we have more than enough indicators at this time to show that something is quite dreadfully wrong.
SECOND UPDATE TUESDAY, DECEMBER 29
THIRD UPDATE 12:36 AM EST, WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 30:
As of early Wednesday morning temperatures at the North Pole had risen to 1.1 C or 34 degrees F representing the highest temperatures ever recorded at the North Pole for this time of year and the first time this region of the high Arctic has experienced temperatures substantially above freezing during Winter.
(1.1 C reading at the North Pole by Midnight, EST is a historic high temperature for the, what should be frigid, top of our world. It’s also yet one more bit of evidence showing that global weather is now in the process of going far off-kilter. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)
Slate on Extreme Weather (It’s worth noting that the storm causing extreme weather in the Central US is not the same one that’s bombing out over Iceland and driving this severe polar warming event, though these storms are certainly both part of the same odd overall weather pattern.)
Hat Tip to DT Lange
Hat Tip to Colorado Bob (Remember — “Hot seeks Cold.”)
Hat Tip to TodaysGuestis
Special Mention to JDAllen and the Arctic Sea Ice Blog (I just became aware they began a discussion on the topic of unprecedented Arctic warming on December 26. ASIB deserves mention for their unfailing monitoring of the Northern Hemisphere sea ice and cryosphere as well as for their extraordinarily informative discussions.)